Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Oval

Those dedicated to improving the Ben Franklin Parkway will soon be one step closer to helping it become what it was always meant to be.

Originally intended to be a European style thoroughfare slowly taking Philadephians to and from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the posh neighborhoods beyond, it never really caught on.

A decade or two after the museum and thus the Parkway was completed, the American love affair with the car began. Couple that with decades of suburban flight and suburbanization and the Parkway became just another freeway out of town.

Luckily for us we haven't mess with it too much. And a century later we're finally starting to appreciate it for what it is, a park.

Over the last decade improvements to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, its expansion, the opening of the Barnes Museum, and general street improvements and bike lanes have attracted countless joggers, cyclists, strollers, and picnickers, some of them long time Philadelphians who never realized what an asset this space was.

For a month this summer a pop-up beach will replace the useless parking lot in the middle of Eakins Oval. What's that mean? Well, it's just simple fun. They'll be sand, "lifeguard stands," a beer garden, and movies at what they're dubbing "The Oval."

It's obviously not as substantial as a new gallery or museum, but the real hope lies in the subtext of the plan. With all the improvements made to the Schuylkill Banks, the PMA, The Waterworks, and the Parkway itself, this lingering parking lot has led even our more curmudgeonly Philadelphians to ask why it's there.

The Oval is undoubtedly a litmus test to gauge interest in a relative large public space that's rarely used, thus justifying eliminating the parking lot and enabling easier access. 

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